In Tex Avery's cartoons, a small man is portrayed to be running like mad, he gets to a steep cliff, keeps running into space, then realises there is nothing under his feet and suddenly collapses. This is how I see the European Union right now. European institutions keep flailing about, European leaders are holding an increasing number of last-resort summits, Mario Draghi is desperately trying to come up with a monetary policy that can pull Europe out of the recession, the pro-European think-tanks and movements keep setting up working groups, but things seem to be going nowhere fast. And the public looks as if it is slowly turning its back on the European dis-Union.

Take the European Parliament for example. It would seem that it is sitting idle, MEPS having nothing to sink their teeth into after Jean Claude Juncker put an end to the regulatory frenzy of his troops. Is this not precisely the moment for the Parliament to address the issue of Europe's future? And too bad if this means tweaking the treaties: “We are here by the will of the people and we shall retire only by force...” We've heard it before.

The Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Council could also break away from their consultative role and take a proactive stance by crossing the road and joining the MEPs: What about an European assembly made up of its representative bodies, who come together and decide that enough is enough and that it is high time that the Europeans take their affairs in their own hands. Pretty simple, isn't it?

The EU is now paying a high price for choosing to stay imprisoned within its own procedural structure – as are European Heads of State for their shortsighted selfishness and their fear of losing whatever power they still have, which led them to choose intergovernmental wheeling and dealing over the “community method” so dear to Jean Monnet.

On the climate change scene, the ultimate transnational issue, we've seen Fabius in all the papers, but does anyone even know the name of woman negotiating for the EU? It seems not. When, with a tad forced enthusiasm, the Paris agreement was celebrated at the close of COP21, only the UN and the French government were up on the podium. Yet only ambitious European-led proposals would truly be able to break the climate deadlock.

Merkel is ever-present in the migrant and refugee issue and it's not until she starts ordering Hollande around, with a loud kiss on his cheek, that we see that the EU indeed has two parents. When it comes to talking things over with Cameron, it is the President of the European Council, the representative of Europe's leaders, who, without any legislative power, is in charge of negotiating exemptions that will convince the British to remain within the EU. Jean Monnet must be turning in his grave.

Meanwhile the media is feeding off Europe's fractured state of affairs, with, it seems, as many divisions as there are Member States – between Northern and Southern Europe, between the East and the West, between the free-riders of social dumping and tax evasion and those seeing their tax revenue diminished because of them, between those that want to welcome migrants and those terrified by the rise of Islam, between federalists and sovereignists, between those supporting a more extensive political and economic integration and those that see Europe's future as nothing but a massive standardised market, between Euroland countries and the others.

These divisions have the effect of making one forget the ambitious vision of those who strove to move Europe towards something else, beyond its long history full of divisions and resentments, beyond the solitary, irritable sovereignties that brought about two world wars. It is no more this history that we are being told; it has become rather an american series that we watch on TV every night.

And look at Scotland or Catalonia, and their desire for independence, which has resulted in a major outcry from European leaders: if you leave the fold of the motherland don't think we'll let you into the European family! What a joke for a collective Europe that has always sought to assert that its wealth is anchored in both its unity and its diversity. Was there such a finicky attitude at the time of the break up of Yugoslavia and of Slovenia's swift inclusion into the EU? And is not Czechoslovakia's split due to the peaceful manner in which it joined the EU? But suddenly each European leader goes on about the separatist ambitions of this or that region and sings the tired old song about a nation that is one and indivisible, all the more pompously when this nation is actually one that is diverse and new, and its construction artificial.

Enough! The risk that Europe will collapse is not only Europe's problem, it's a problem for the whole world. It would mean that the only historic attempt to shift peacefully from solitary sovereignty to shared, solidarity-based sovereignty, to use the words of legal expert Mireille Delmas Marty, would have ended in failure.

So what's the answer? Faced with the deafening silence of our leaders and the inertia of French leaders in particular, whose historical responsibility it is to put Europe back on track (it was precisely because French leaders held out a hand to a defeated Germany in the post-war years that Europe began to shift from dream to reality) – I venture to offer several concrete suggestions (ref: Europe Epic).

These suggestions may seem unrelated to this year's burning issues – migrants, the British referendum, terrorism, the economy, the debt crisis, among others. And for good reason: because there are no answers to any of these problems in Europe's current landscape.

Firstly, we should accept that there are two types of countries in Europe: those that want to move forward towards a common fate and those that only aspire to a materialistic world of mutual prosperity. And let's openly admit that no country joined the EU under duress and no country should be forced to stay or to make unreasonable compromises.

We can't both say that the EU grew too fast, that its institutions are ill-adapted to its large number of Member States, and say that it is a tragedy that a country, however important it may be, leaves it, even if its departure results in a few others following suit; the rule “a Member State, a European Commissioner” would only be slightly less ridiculous...

And if there were only the six founding countries that were united in moving Europe towards a common fate, would Europe lose its raison d'être? Of course not! The tragedy of Europe, in regards to its force of attraction on neighbouring countries, as we see currently with the refugee issue, is not that it ceased to grow, but rather that it grew too quickly.

Moreover, it is clear that it was never a goal in itself that Europe should be built by way of a single market. The only goal in creating Europe was to establish lasting peace in a continent that just about killed itself with two world wars. The economic construction was never anything but a “plan B”, adopted after the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) in 1954. But this “plan B”, although it served a purpose in building an increasingly integrated Europe for many years, has now turned against Europe, turned it into nothing more than a stepping stone to regulated neoliberal globalisation.

The paradox highlighted by the creation of the Euro, is that without a common political direction, Europe's market is significantly more unified than that of the USA. According to the European spokespeople, this unification has been the key to Europe's growth. However, such an argument has lost all credibility since the financial crisis, with the result that Brussels has become the battleground for economical and financial lobbies, and, more alarmingly, the European project has become synonymous with pernickety directives that have made European governance lose all legitimacy, squandering past successes in other domains.

It is hardly surprising that in such circumstances newcomers see the EU as merely an economic entity. But of more consequence is that this entity has been constructed by governments, not by the people. We have forgotten that the essence of governance is not managing an established community but helping a community to establish itself.

It is not overnight and by way of simple economic integration that different peoples – which history has often set up against each other – will discover their common fate, will stand united and feel responsible for one another, and will share common values and a common vision of the future and of their place in the world: the very definition of a community.

The European project has missed a step – and a crucial step at that. That of a constituent Assembly, which would provide an opportunity to discuss the way in which we wish to be together in the world. The European Convention and the subsequent Treaty of Lisbon could have been a chance to pursue this. Unfortunately we missed this chance.

In the internet age, such a constituent assembly should be formed through a comprehensive citizen-based process, a genuine États-Généraux of Europe, and concluded with a real European citizens assembly. This is the process that urgently needs to be set in motion.

How can this be achieved? A high-level Franco-German initiative would undoubtedly provide the necessary political impetus. And an appeal to the European Parliament would also be useful. But if we wish to break the vicious cycle – so typical of the European elections – where although we might be talking about Europe, we are really thinking about the prospects of politicians that have been ousted from the national political stage – we need to put an end to the “nationalistic” mentality and incite discussion that works on two levels: the regional level and the European level. I experimented with this two-level method with the European panel on the future of rural areas. The Committee of European Regions could embark upon such a process tomorrow if they wanted to. But would they dare?

Governance also needs to change. Everyone agrees that the EU has suffered from half-measures: they went ahead with the Schengen Area but failed to manage all EU borders, and neglected to build a shared European intelligence system. They went ahead with the Euro but didn't establish a common economic and tax policy, etc. We thus need to agree on new ways of sharing sovereignty – I like this idea better than that of “transferring” sovereignty, which I find too mechanistic. Currently, the wind is blowing in the other direction, towards “re-nationalisation”.

We will only succeed in establishing this shared sovereignty if competence and authority on certain economic matters are restored to the national or infra-national level. Which just so happens to be exactly what is needed to address the economic crisis!

One example is that of regional currencies. In an economic and social context where people are unemployed while their next-door neighbours's needs are unsatisfied, we need to revitalise local trade. Not only through locally-sourced food but also a whole host of other goods and services – to give full effect to the idea of a “circular economy” that the Commission has been preaching into a vacuum, since it is not compatible with its obsession with free competition.

Of course we should keep the Euro, but it would be a mistake to make it the only European currency, which would create a monetary veil that would obscure other forms of trade.

By acknowledging that trade functions on several levels, we would also be doing a great deal more than just that – we would be uniting Europe around the idea of multi-level governance. We would be finally acknowledging the notion that all of Europe's human wealth has come from generating more unity and more diversity. Neither sovereignist thinking, where all that counts is so-called “national unity”, nor federalist thinking, which in the name of a greater necessity gives “higher authorities” the power to act on behalf of everyone else, provides that which is most important in governance: the need for both more diversity and more unity.

The “active ingredient” of multi-level governance, to use pharmaceutical speak, is active subsidiarity. Adherence to guiding principles is what ensures unity, not a generic formula. And these common principles are brought to the fore by stakeholders sharing their knowledge and experience, and working together: it is about finding together a way for it to work. And it is this shared work that both transforms the group into a learning community, and transforms these common guiding principles, not into a “directive” that has dropped out of the Brussels sky, but into the product of a shared human experience.

What I find amazing when I go to Brussels is that the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) is going in the right intuitive direction. It provides common work methods and an opportunity for experience sharing. It's true that it has been perverted by technocratic and managerial undercurrents, and the Commission sometimes sees it as dissipating its power, by moving from hard law to soft law, from directives to recommendations. But if appropriated by all social forces and freed of all the irrelevance of calculated objectives, what a wonderful space this could become for building a human community!

And the other perspective dear to my heart, is to give a common sense of meaning to Europe by making it the heart and soul of the transition to sustainable societies (ref. Letter to Juncker). Europe invented modernity and the industrial revolution. It is responsible for thrusting humanity into the Anthropocene. It has the spiritual and intellectual resources to meet the unprecedented challenges it has itself brought about, “Prometheus unleashed” as Philippe de Woote coined it.

This is where climate change proposals play a role: adopting a European Charter of Human Responsibilities – a term I favour over Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities; establishing a negotiable regional quota system and, accordingly, an energy currency; a tax on fossil fuels collected at source; and changing international trade treaties to reflect and support sustainable production and consumption systems.